12 basics of interviewing, listening and note-taking

By Roy Peter Clark • August 19, 2015

As a writer I would NOT give myself high marks for the crafts of interviewing, listening, and note-taking. But I have sat at the knees of journalists who are experts at these elements of craft: John Sawatsky of ESPN, Jacqui Banaszynski of the University of Missouri, and Tom French of Indiana University – all of whom have taught at Poynter.

Not long ago, I taught a workshop on these topics to the young men of Poynter’s Write Field program, about 40 minority students attending middle school and high school. They found my lessons useful, so I thought I would pass them on to a larger audience.

I realize these dozen strategies constitute the basics. But when I am struggling with a craft – golf, music, writing – I find it helpful to remind myself of those basics, to climb down from the penthouse and visit the ground floor.

1. Even if you have a chance to record an interview, back it up with notes in your notebook. You never know when technology will fail you.

2. Learn as much as you can about the subject – time permitting – BEFORE you conduct the interview. Go in prepared.

3. Bring into the interview a list of questions in the general order you want to ask them. You may want to save a tougher question until the end.

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